Rhode Island will use a $13 million federal grant to finance a new Enhanced Transit Corridor in downtown Providence, announced Gov. Gina Raimondo, Mayor Jorge Elorza, the congressional delegation and Rhode Island Public Transit Authority March 14. The corridor will provide buses every five minutes along a 1.4-mile stretch that runs from the Providence Amtrak Station to Rhode Island Hospital.
“This project is an example of the mutually beneficial outcomes that are possible when all levels of government work creatively and collaboratively,” Elorza said in a March 14 press release. “Together with partners at the state and federal level, we are building a tool that will encourage economic activity and help strengthen Providence’s resurgence.”
Raimondo also spoke in favor of the project in the release. “Fast, convenient public transit will help make Rhode Island a more attractive place to live and work.”
The funding for the corridor was originally awarded to the City of Providence for the construction of the Providence Streetcar Project. RIPTA, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation and the City of Providence worked together over the past several months to develop the corridor as an alternative project at a lower cost.
Stefano Bloch, presidential diversity postdoctoral fellow in Urban Studies, said that “a 1.4 mile corridor is more symbolic than anything else.” Bloch believes that the corridor is an attempt by city planners to show that “hypermobility is important to us as a city.”
But in reality, the corridor will not “change the built environment drastically. It’s not going to ameliorate the negative effects of traffic or lack of transit services, and it’s not going to provide much in the way of allowing people to get to or from school or work any easier than they do now,” Bloch said.
But Bloch does favor the transit corridor over the original Providence Streetcar Project.
“Streetcars are an aesthetic attempt to fix structural problems, and it’s more about appearances than it is about function,” Bloch said. “All that matters is that transit is functional. … You need not appeal to the past.”
Rep. David Cicilline, D-RI, a former advocate for the streetcar project, now supports the new plans for the ETC. “The Enhanced Transit Corridor will help improve transportation in Providence, connect neighborhoods to downtown, promote greater economic development and bring new residents to Rhode Island,” Cicilline said. He successfully advocated allocating the $13 million grant that will fund the corridor, securing 75 percent of the funding for this project through federal money.
Barbara Polichetti, director of public affairs for RIPTA, said she believes the transit corridor serves several purposes. “The city was looking for a frequent service in the downtown corridor that would connect some key economic areas,” she said. Furthermore, the corridor will increase RIPTA’s presence at the Providence Amtrak Station, as well as make connections to other existing lines. The corridor “will hopefully create more traffic for our existing service, feeding more ridership,” Polichetti said.
According to Polichetti, construction will begin in the spring of 2018. The first step for the project is completing paperwork for the Federal Transit Administration and convening all project partners. Before construction can begin, preliminary engineering work must be done in the fall of 2016, followed by a final design phase in the spring of 2017.
Polichetti explained that “we haven’t even gotten into the design phase,” but the planning for the corridor will look into what road modifications can be made and determine the possibility of adding a bus lane, enhanced stop amenities, Wi-Fi at stops and even traffic signal prioritization.
Polichetti explained that RIPTA can work with the city and state “to install software where the bus line can communicate with the traffic signals.” RIPTA buses “can hold a yellow or hold a green, (but) they won’t actually change a light” for the sake of “reducing travel time.”